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Interdependence... IS an American Value

Article Index
Interdependence... IS an American Value
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Note: Review copies of this guide drew comments from readers who wondered if the value we were seeking to illuminate was “community” instead of “interdependence”.  We have chosen to continue focusing on interdependence because independence is so strongly emphasized as a value in American culture.  However, In order to promote discussions that compare and contrast “community”, “interdependence”, and “independence”, we have defined all three terms below.

Why definitions? Words are extremely powerful, and dictionaries are always very precise about what vocabulary they use in their definitions. Look at how definitions of “interdependent”, “independent”, and “community” overlap or differ. Look over the definitions together as a group, and list out the words frequently used to define each term. Make a separate list of how the definitions have changed. Are these changes substantial or subtle? How would the definitions apply to an individual, community, or government? As a group, come up with your own definitions for Interdependence, paying close attention to what the group wishes to include or exclude.

For Interdependent:

Mutually dependent

Mutually dependent; reliant on one another

Organisms that need each other for survival.


People and/or businesses depending on or helping each other.


1. Depending on each other: unable to exist or survive without each other
interdependent organisms
2. With mutually dependent elements: relying on mutual assistance, support, cooperation, or interaction among constituent parts or members



Adj. (of two or more people of things) Dependent on each other: the increasingly global nature of human society, with interdependent economies.
-Oxford American Dictionaries (1998)

Mutually dependent
-American Heritage Dictionary (1994)

Dependent each upon the other, mutually dependent.
-Oxford English Dictionary (1973)

For Independent:

Consider contrasting the above definitions of interdependence with the definitions of independence below.

1. Not governed by a foreign power.
2. Free from the influence, guidance, or control of others; self reliant.
3. Not Contingent.
4. Not committed to any one political party.
-American Heritage Dictionary (1994)

1. a) not subject to authority or control.
b) self-governing
2. a) not depending on another person for one's opinion or livelihood
b) making it unnecessary to earn one's living.
3. Unwilling to be under an obligation to others.
4. Not belonging to or supported by a party.
-Oxford American Dictionaries (1998)

Not depending on the authority of another; not in a position of subordination or subjection; not subject to external rule or control; self governing, autonomous, free.
-Oxford English Dictionary (1973)

For Community:

1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage: the community of Western Europe.
5. Ecclesiastical. a group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
6. Ecology. an assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area.
7. joint possession, enjoyment, liability, etc.: community of property.
8. similar character; agreement; identity: community of interests.
9. the community, the public; society: the needs of the community.

1. a) A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government.
b) The locality in which such a group lives.
2. A group of people having common interests.
3. Similarity: a community of interests
4. Society as a whole.
5. Ecology. A group of plants and animals living with one another in a specific region.
-American Heritage Dictionary (1994)

1. The quality of appertaining to or being held by all in common; joint or common ownership, tenure, liability, etc.; as in a community of goods.
2. Life in association with others; society, the social state.
3. A body of those having common or equal rights or rank, as distinguished from the privileged classes; the body of commons; the commonality.
4. A body of people organized into a political, municipal, or social unity: a) A state or commonwealth. b) a body of men living in the same locality.  
-Oxford English Dictionary (1973)